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Tonight at 10 PM is the "Secret History of the Credit C


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Tonight on PBS Front-line will present the "Secret History of the Credit Card" at 10 PM EST. It's scheduled to air one night only this week.


"The skinny on the credit card business will be available to you tonight when PBS airs the "Secret History of the Credit Card" on FRONTLINE. The 60-minute commercial-free documentary reveals how banks developed the credit card business into an industry with $30 billion in annual profits."


"The average American family today carries eight credit cards. Credit card debt and personal bankruptcies are now at an all time high. With no legal limit on the amount of interest or fees that can be charged, credit cards have become the most profitable sector of the American banking industry: more than $30 billion in profits last year alone. FRONTLINE and The New York Times examine how the credit card industry became so pervasive, so lucrative, and so politically powerful."


"Ed Yingling, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association tells FRONTLINE that "revolvers are the sweet spot" of the banking industry. This "sweet spot" continues to grow as the average credit card debt among American households has more than doubled over the past decade. Today, the average card-carrying American family owes a record $7,500 on their credit cards. This debt has helped generate record profits for the credit card industry–nearly $30 billion just last year.

Some experts say the profitability of credit cards really began twenty-five years ago, when the banking industry successfully eliminated a critical restriction: the limit on the interest rate a lender can charge a borrower. Deregulation, coupled with a revolution in technology that enables the almost real-time tracking of personal financial information and the emergence of nationwide banking, has facilitated the widening availability of credit cards across the economic spectrum. But for some, the cost of credit is often far greater than it appears.

According to Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, the credit card companies are misleading consumers and making up their own rules. "These guys have figured out the best way to compete is to put a smiley face in your commercials, a low introductory rate, and hire a team of MBAs to lay traps in the fine print," Warren tells FRONTLINE.

Much of the industry's profit, critics say, is derived from what they call deceptive new tactics used to add to the bottom line. Spelled out in a credit card contract–the terms and conditions of which can be changed at any time for any reason with fifteen days' notice–these tactics are often triggered when consumers hit an unanticipated bump that makes them particularly vulnerable."


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